Fiction – paperback; Harper Perennial; 127 pages; 2005.
The disappearance of a young boy’s African grey parrot forms the centrepiece of this intriguingly old-fashioned detective novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon.
Set in 1944 war-time England, the bird, Bruno, speaks German, spouting numbers one to nine in no particular order for hours at a time. Could he be revealing a classified enemy code or the number of a secret Swiss bank account?
When someone is killed and the parrot is nowhere to be found, a once famous but now elderly police detective comes out of retirement to help track him down.
Has the bird been stolen by a money-hungry bird trader? Or an analyst seeking to decipher the numbers spoken “in a soft, oddly breathy voice, with the slightest hint of a lisp”.
The old man’s investigation — which is inspired by his affection for the young boy, a mute escapee from Nazi Germany left bereft without his feathered friend — covers the Chalk Downs of rural Sussex to the bombed out city streets of war torn London. Along the way various clues – and dead ends – are explored until a satisfactory and delightfully elegant solution to the case is finally discovered.
This thoroughly English detective story owes much to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. It is clever, witty and touching. Each sentence is beautifully crafted so that not one word is wasted or out of place. A quick, entertaining read, it will have you turning to the start again to see whether you can spot all the various clues that you might have missed. I loved it.